Mark Cavendish claimed his first Tour de France stage win in five years on Tuesday.
The Deceuninck-QuickStep rider powered to victory in a mass sprint at the end of Stage 4 in the western Brittany region. He edged Frenchman Nacer Bouhanni and Jasper Philipsen of Belgium.
Cavendish pumped his fists in the air and raised both hands as he crossed the finishing line to record his 31st Tour de France stage victory. After the race he collapsed in tears and was embraced by teammates and rivals alike.
“I don’t know what to say, man,” the veteran British rider said. “Like, just being here is special enough, you know. I didn’t think I’d ever get to comeback to this race.”
Cavendish, 36, moved himself on to Alpecin-Felix’s Philipsen's wheel and then came past him inside the final 50 metres to claim a resounding win. Bouhanni of Arkea-Samsic came past the weakening Philipsen to take second spot close to the finishing line.
“Just fire, man, just fire from the whole team,” Cavendish added. “We didn’t know if we were going to get them.
“We lost (teammate Fabrizio) Ballero, same thing as happened to me, he lost spokes of his wheel. But you see what a team this is, you’ve got the green jersey, the world champion, Julian Alaphilippe.
“He just comes to give the final pull to catch the breakaway, putting everything in. So many people didn’t believe in me, but these guys did, and they do.
“I thought I was never coming back to this race, honestly. When you come to Deceuninck-QuickStep, you’ve got the best riders in the world so there wasn’t even a thought to come here, you know.
“But the stars aligned, somehow. I never ever want bad things to happen to good people, but after the last year, it’s just nice to have good luck for myself.”
Mathieu van der Poel retained the yellow jersey, eight seconds clear of Alaphilippe, followed by Richard Carapaz, Wout Van Aert, Wilco Kelderman and Tadej Pogacar, the defending champion of UAE Team Emirates.
Stage 1 victor Alaphilippe paid tribute to the veteran Cavendish on his stage victory. “He’s just amazing,” the Frenchman said. “I’m so happy for him, so happy for the team. We really believed in him for today’s stage.
“This is such an emotional victory for him but also for everyone. He was so motivated. Like a neo-pro. He showed his grinta and his team spirit. He’s still one of the best sprinters in the world and he showed it again today.
“Michael [Morkov] for me is the best leadout rider in the world. I don’t say that because we’re on the same team but you can see if every sprint that he’s doing he always perfect, calm, and relaxed.
“He does his effort at good moment and I think today for Mark, Michael was really important.”
Morkov, Cavendish’s Deceuninck-QuickStep’s teammate, added: “We got a bit far back on the last two kilometres, so I had to bring up Mark and luckily, we had a class rider like Julian there to bring us up in the last part.
“Mark is a legend and I'm really proud to ride with him and bring him back on this level.
“He wasn't even in the dressing room when the team was selected. He made it in at the last moment and showed today that he's a true pro bike rider who was prepared even though he wasn't supposed to do the race.”